dolorosa_12: (tea)
After my month of posting every day about books, I seem to have completely vanished from the internet, and Dreamwidth in particular. This was mainly due to illness, brought on by intense stress about the political crisis in the UK and the impending Brexit catastrophe. More about that below.

But first, I'll talk about nice things.

I spent last weekend in Germany for the wedding of one of Matthias's cousins. The cousin (and indeed that whole part of the family) live in Iserlohn, and the wedding and reception were all in that part of the world. Matthias and I flew in to Dortmund on Friday afternoon and were collected by his parents, who drove us to the hotel where we were all staying (and which would also be the reception venue). We all had dinner on the Friday night in the hotel with another aunt and uncle. The wedding itself was on midday on the Saturday, in a castle on the top of a hill, and sadly I didn't get any photos of the ceremony itself, but trust me when I say the setting was very picturesque. We then returned back to the reception for what ended up being an entire day of being fed. The reception meal at German weddings (at least in my experience) is always dinner, but as it was about 2pm at that point and no one had had lunch, we were given open bread roll sandwiches as canapes with our sparkling wine. This was then followed by coffee and a variety of cakes at 3pm, and finally the huge buffet dinner in the evening. There was also apparently a midnight snack of cheeses and fruit, but I was certainly not hungry enough by that point to investigate!

There was a DJ playing (as always) the cheesiest collection of both German and English-language music, and I danced for hours. We finally staggered up to bed around 1am. Now normally I would be able to sleep fine, even with the DJ still going several floors below, but because my body's been in panic mode pretty much for the past three weeks, my sleeping abilities are wrecked, and I ended up not being able to sleep at all that night, even though the DJ finished up around 2.30 and then it was deathly quiet. Luckily I didn't need to do anything on the Sunday beyond being driven to the airport (with a detour to a nearby lake which we walked around in the sunsine).

On Monday I went down to London after work to go to a panel discussion at the Piccadilly Waterstones between Samantha Shannon, Zen Cho, Tasha Suri, and Zoe Marriott, moderated by their fellow author Katherine Webber. It was a fun talk — all, with the exception of Marriott (who was a bit rambly) were great speakers, and although it didn't really tell me anything new about their books, it was great to see them in conversation, bouncing ideas off each other and gushing over one another's books.

From the heights to the depths: the ghastly, stressful political, economic, social and psychological catastrophe that is Brexit. For several weeks, I was feverishly following every moment: Twitter open with various commentators live-tweeting sessions in the House of Commons, the Guardian's frenzied politics livefeed open in the next tab over. This did serious damage to both my mental and physical health (I couldn't sleep, I had panic attacks that lasted all night, I had nightmares, the lack of sleep gave me a cold, at one point I literally vomited from stress at work), and in the end I had to stop. I had been following every moment because I was afraid something terrible would happen and I would miss trying to stop it. On Wednesday last week, after a particularly bad night of panic attacks, I realised that I had to just completely switch off everything. So no Twitter, no news — I can't even go to news websites to look up articles on something else, in case I see anything Brexit-related. I've been living in a sort of cone of silence for over a week now, and it's helping, mostly.

I do know that the EU allowed Britain a longer extension, because Matthias told me this morning, meaning that the country will still be in the EU tomorrow, and I will still be an EU citizen for now. I'm assuming we'll have to hold EU parliamentary elections now, although even that was unclear (but surely the EU would be mad to offer an extension to October without making the EU parliamentary elections a condition?). But the panicked uncertainty was too much for me, so I think I'll have to maintain my distance.

I see also that Scott Morrison has finally called an election, so that will be another thing to vote for in May. I'm hoping desperately that all the polls are right and we're going to get a change of government (although the prospect of Bill Shorten being rewarded for essentially not being Scott Morrison is pretty depressing; I met Shorten at a dinner party before he was an MP and I was not impressed). I'm imagining that the campaign will be dismal and ugly.

So that's been my life for the past couple of weeks. I've been listening to a lot of M83. Carry on, carry on/ and after us the flood indeed.
dolorosa_12: (startorial)
Massive Attack was everything I could have hoped for and more. I'm not, generally, someone who gets overwhelmed with the experience of live music, but there are rare exceptions, and this was one of them. I didn't quite realise how emotional it would make me, to see the album that I've loved so much since I was a teenager, in awe at its wordplay and dark bass and vocals both soaring and cthonic, brought to life. To hear those words, that have been at once formative foundation and the armour in which I've wrapped myself for more than twenty years, sung aloud. I was lost the minute I walked out into the Tube station and saw this (as I said to Matthias, it's moments like this that I love London, that ridiculous city). And then they sang my favourite song of all time: not just my favourite Massive Attack song, but my favourite song by any artist. I've heard Robert Del Naja whisper-growl we can unwind/ all these half flaws, and it's making up for two decades of concert regrets.

(Two links that probably sum up the concert very well — a review of the show, and an interview with the band.)

We stayed overnight in London after the concert — leaving the O2 to dense, atmospheric fog which somehow felt perfectly in keeping with the mood evoked by the music, and which was still around on Saturday morning, shrouding the post-apocalyptic wasteland which is Canning Town at 7am with a vaguely Luther-ish air. After a quick breakfast in one of my favourite Bloomsbury cafes (oh, London coffee), we wandered up to the British Museum, joining the thronging crowds on the penultimate day of an exhibition on Ashurbanipal, who was an Assyrian ruler. If the self-aggrandising quotes from his letters are to be believed he seemed rather like a more competent version of the menace currently President of the US — he won the vastest empire through battles, he solved all the complicated mathematic problems, sages and soothsayers contacted him for his predictions of the future, and so on. I was mainly struck by how much material had survived — so many letters and stories and tax records on clay tablets, so many incredible carved decorative stones, and so on. As most of this material comes from very dangerous parts of the world (mainly modern-day Iraq and Syria), there is great concern for its safety, and the final room of the exhibition had a video with interviews with Iraqi archaeologists, who had worked on the exhibition and who had been trained by the British Museum in 'disaster archaeology' (i.e. working in high-risk areas with materials that are under threat), and these archaeologists are currently excavating new sites in the region, with the aim that the materials unearthed will remain in Iraq. They were all very passionate about this work, but it sounds at once very dangerous, and a race against time.

I had grand plans today for writing book reviews, and a letter for [community profile] waybackexchange, but other than a bit of pottering around in the garden (we now should hopefully have home-grown zucchini and radishes in a few months' time) and reading a KJ Charles book in the sun, I've failed dismally to have a productive Sunday.

At least I seem to have got my reading groove back. I read Tara Westover's memoir Educated on the train to and from London, which, given how much of it involves studying at Cambridge (indeed, Westover was a friend of one of my Cambridge friends during her time there), seemed fitting. She's obviously lived a very interesting life — brought up as the daughter of fundamentalist Mormons who spent most of her childhood as Doomsday survivalists, completely neglecting her education, and raising her and her siblings in a wholly abusive environment, self-educating herself to the point that she could go to university, and then ending up a PhD student at Cambridge — and if I wished that she would condemn her parents in stronger terms, that probably says more about me than it does about her.

I also read a handful of Tor.com free short stories — three on the basis of recommendations from [personal profile] eglantiere ('What Mario Scietto Says' by Emmy Laybourne, 'Cold Wind' by Nicola Griffith, and 'The Tallest Doll in New York City' by Maria Dahvana Headley), and one of the basis of a review by Amal El-Mohtar ('A Dead Djinn in Cairo' by P. Djèlí Clark). I liked them all except the Laybourne, which, given that its point-of-view character is a survivalist prepper experiencing an apocalypse, and given what I said above about the Westover book, was never going to work for me. I really find it hard to engage with a narrative that expects me to sympathise with survivalists, or which implies that they were right to prep for the apocalypse.

Matthias and I also found time last night to finish off the fifth season of Luther, which didn't work for me for a variety of reasons, the main one being that I felt the writers lost their sense of the characters, who all behaved in ways which were for me widely out of character. I'm not sure if there'll be another season, and I'm not sure if some of the writing decisions made in this one are salvageable, but in any case I was not particularly impressed.

How has everyone been enjoying their weekends?
dolorosa_12: (le guin)
Matthias' birthday is 16th November, and, in a rather uncharacteristic manner,* we celebrated it early, in London, on Friday night and most of Saturday. This is because four of the '90s Eurodance acts that he grew up adoring — but, as a young teenager never had the opportunity to see live — were performing together in a club in the O2 Arena, cashing in on Gen Y nostalgia, on Friday night. Given the closeness of the event to his birthday, I offered to get us tickets as a present, and he overcame his squeamishness about 'pre-celebration'. While theoretically it would have been possible to make the last train back to Cambridge after the concert, we opted to stay overnight in a budget hotel, in order to see the British Library exhibition on the Anglo-Saxons (which covered history, and Old English literature and intellectual culture) on Saturday morning.

Both the concert and the exhibition ended up being all about international connections, openness, intercultural exchange, and the 'outward look' more generally.

I had been dubious about how four groups/singers — Maxx, Masterboy, Haddaway, and 2 Unlimited — notorious as one-hit, or at best two-hit wonders, were going to find enough material to fill an entire concert, but I shouldn't have worried. They knew why they were there: to play that handful of hits, and get a crowd of nostalgic thirty- and forty-somethings dancing, and on that they delivered. It certainly worked for me, and as for Matthias, he was bouncing around in sheer energetic joy. If the bands resented having to play the songs that made them famous circa 1992-1995 they gave no indication of it, and treated the audience in that tiny club as if it were a sold-out stadium tour.

As we queued to go into the club, we heard no languages other than Polish, and, judging by the makeup of the audience, I would say it was mainly Polish, Romanian, and Lithuanian people. And, as I jumped around enthusiastically, being elbowed in the face by the extremely tall, very perky, glowstick-covered Lithuanian guy in front of me, and being hugged and danced with by the very drunk, very friendly Irish woman next to me, while an ageing Dutch popstar yelled 'TECHNO, TECHNO, TECHNO!' at us, I felt a bittersweet kind of joy at this easy, effortless, pan-European sense of community, at home together in London, brought together by cheesy Eurodance nostalgia, and a fury at how easily it is about to be taken away, by people who never saw its value.

The Anglo-Saxons exhibition was excellent.** I didn't really learn anything new — although my major in undergrad, MPhil, and PhD are in medieval Irish literature, my department where I undertook the MPhil and PhD are multidisciplinary, focusing on the languages, literatures, history and material culture of medieval Ireland, Britain, and Scandinavia, so it's impossible not to learn about Old English literature and Anglo-Saxon history by osmosis in an environment like that (and indeed, as the exhibition makes plain, to study any medieval culture in isolation is absurd). However, it was great to see so many important manuscripts all brought together in the one exhibition space. Matthias was like a child in a sweet shop, and in particular was deeply moved to see the Vercelli Manuscript, Junius Manuscript, Exeter Book and Beowulf Manuscript — representing the entirety of extant Old English poetry — side by side. (Whenever I'm reminded that those four manuscripts are all that survive of the Old English poetic corpus I am deeply grateful that I chose to study medieval Irish, with its embarassment of riches when it comes to vernacular manuscripts!)

The exhibition as a whole was mainly manuscripts — the vernacular poetry ones I mentioned above, law codes, religious writing, hymn books with musical notation, saints' Lives, grammatical texts to teach Latin, legal codes, medical writing, history, and charters — with a few other artifacts of material culture, such as jewellery (including the famous 'Alfred jewel'), pottery, and weapons. What I particularly appreciated (and overheard many other exhibition attendees remarking on) was the relentless emphasis on the international component and outward-looking nature of Anglo-Saxon societies. The enduring networks, reinforced by diplomacy, political marriages, trade, and the exchange of ideas, were mentioned in all the displays' descriptions: the movement of manuscripts between ecclesiastical establishments in Britain, Ireland, and continental Europe (and even, in some cases, from places further afield such as North Africa), the movement of people between royal courts on both sides of the Channel, and the exchange of ideas apparent in more prosaic form — in the design of jewellery, belt-buckles, coins, or calligraphy. On one level it was dispiriting to overhear so many other attendees remarking on how astonishing they found all these connections, because this made it plain how pervasive is the common perception of medieval insularity. But I suppose on the other hand at least those attendees will go away with a new understanding of how international, interconnected, and outward-looking medieval people could be, and that the concept of national borders and identities has always been fluid and complicated. That the ocean was not a barrier, but rather a highway. That the lies nationalists tell about the peoples studied in my former academic discipline are just that — lies, deceptive myths designed to comfort and simplify for people who find complexity discomforting. That the wider world has always been there, and even premodern people engaged with it. That intellectual and creative culture has always been a collaborative effort, in conversation with itself, open to 'outside' influences.

In other words, there has always been migration, and migrants. And, as was made clear in the Eurodance concert on Friday night, we migrants are still here, and this is still our home, and we will remain, and we will go on dancing.

__________

*'Uncharacteristic' because, as a German, he has a deep aversion to celebrating birthdays in advance, which is felt to be tempting fate.
**Inevitably we bumped into someone we knew from the department at Cambridge where we did our degrees. She was there with her husband and small son. Cambridge is a very, very small town, even when it's in London.
dolorosa_12: (le guin)
If I don't post about my trip to Tuscany (made in late August/early September) soon, I'm unlikely to ever do so, so consider this a belated recap of my time there. This was the last of my international trips this northern summer, which ended up being very busy with trips back and forth across the Channel.

Matthias and I were invited to Italy for the wedding of two of our friends, E and A, both of whom we know through our mutual time as students at Cambridge. Unlike Matthias and I, who have left academia behind us, E and A have remained in the field. E is now a lecturer in medieval history at Durham, and A is doing a postdoc at Freie Universität in Berlin, and for various reasons decided they wanted to have their wedding in Italy. I was a little dubious at first, because Albiano, the village in which this was set to take place, appeared super inaccessible without a car, but the whole thing was planned with surgical precision and a great deal of thought as to the wedding guests' enjoyment.

The wedding was set to take place on a Sunday, but events were happening from the Thursday onwards, so Matthias and I elected to stay from Thursday to Tuesday (flights out of Pisa were much cheaper on the Tuesday than the Monday, so we decided to give our excess money to a hotel in Pisa and spend twenty-four hours there, rather than giving it to Ryanair for the dubious privilege of returning home one day earlier). Albiano is a tiny little village, nestled in the mountains, about two hours' drive from Pisa airport. We were fortunate enough to be picked up after our flight by two friends who had hired a car, and they drove us right to our hotel.

The set up of the village was rather odd — the hotel, pool (and poolside bar), cafe, and sole restaurant were all owned by one woman, who opened each at strategic times of the day, funnelling customers from breakfast at the cafe to lunch at the poolside bar to dinner in the restaurant according to the hour. Our hotel room had the most incredible view over the mountains and valleys, and was right above the swimming pool, which was free for hotel guests. I went in for a swim on the Thursday, before going down the hill to the wedding venue, which was also where A, E, their families and some other guests were staying, for a barbecue dinner.

On the Friday, we were driven out to a local vineyard for what was described as a wine tasting, but actually ended up being a massive lunch of antipasti, accompanied by jug after jug of absolutely incredible wine — prosecco, minerally white wine, and two excellent red wines. I resisted the urge to buy bottles to take home (we had only paid for hand luggage on our flight), and returned to Albiano for a pizza dinner at the restaurant.

The Saturday was occupied by a day trip to Lucca (a town about forty-five minutes away by car with a pretty historic centre, beautiful cathedral, and old city walls). Unintentionally comical highlights included being trapped in the cathedral by an absolutely torrential downpour which flooded the footpath and square outside the cathedral doors and poured in through the roof and heavy wooden doors, where it was swept out ineffectually by two old men with brooms, and a tour guide, indicating a relic of Thomas Becket, describing the saint as having been 'killed by the Anglicans because he didn't want to convert to Protestantism' (at which point the entire room, which was mainly filled with medievalists, cringed). We then moved on to Barga, the town across the valley from Albiano, for dinner in a restaurant to celebrate A's birthday. Here is my Barga and Lucca photoset.

Finally, on the Sunday, there was the wedding. It was meant to be outdoors in the venue, which was a gorgeous villa, surrounded by grape vines, apple trees and lovely gardens, but the unpredictable weather, which we had watched roll in all morning as we lounged by the pool, brought rain in the afternoon. We picked our way down the muddy path in the vineyard, had a quick drink of Lambrusco with friends staying in the venue, and then went to the (indoor) ceremony. Fortunately, the rain had cleared by the end of the ceremony, so we were able to enjoy drinks, aperitivo, and antipasti in the gardens before heading indoors for dinner (honestly, most of this trip was just people feeding me vast quantities of incredibly good Italian food). There was a jazz band during the outdoor pre-dinner festivities, which was replaced by a cheesy 80s playlist piped into the gardens via speakers after dinner. My ASNC friends and I danced all night, and it was glorious, although the grass in the garden probably won't thank us.

Then it was on to Pisa by train from Barga, where Matthias and I checked in to one of our characteristically bizarre hotels (honestly, this seems to be something of a pattern with us). We spent the evening walking the city walls and hanging around near the cathedral and leaning tower. We left going inside until the next day, and then wandered around the city looking for somewhere to eat, at which point we bumped into E, A, [tumblr.com profile] ienthuse and her husband E, who were on their way to a restaurant, so we joined them. It was an excellent final meal to have on the trip — just delicious, simple, good quality (is there anything else?) Italian food and wine — and very serendipitous to bump into them. I would definitely recommend Pisa as a place to visa for a long weekend, especially if you're travelling from the UK, as you can fly there from pretty much every UK airport, the airport is a five-minute train ride from the city itself, and it's very easy to walk pretty much anywhere you'd need to go. Here's my photoset from my twenty-four hours in Pisa.

And then it was back to Cambridge, and reality, and autumn.
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
I have a lot of stuff to post about, including a great trip to Italy I made nearly two weeks ago to celebrate the wedding of two friends, but it will have to wait, because there is other, more pressing news. Namely, I was lucky enough to get to see Janelle Monáe live at a concert last night in the Camden Roundhouse in London!

Rather fortuitously, the concert was on the same day as a day conference on open access monograph publishing, which Matthias went to and was thus able to not take leave to go to the concert (as I had to do), and had the cost of his train ticket covered, making the whole day slightly cheaper than it would otherwise have been. While he was at the conference, I caught up with [twitter.com profile] lowercasename at a cute little basement coffee place in Bloomsbury. Inevitably, as it always is when two migrants in the UK meet up, we fell to venting about the Home Office, fretting about visas, and planning his next visa application with the level of tactical detail normally reserved for some sort of military campaign. Inevitably, also, his PhD supervisor was giving a keynote address at the conference Matthias was attending. It really is a very small world.

I spent the rest of the day wandering around London. I visited the free exhibition at the British Library on the Windrush generation, stopped in at Seven Dials, and walked along Regent's Canal from Kings Cross to Camden Lock, where I met Matthias at a great Caribbean restaurant over the road from the Roundhouse before heading in to the concert.

I'd definitely put it in my top five concerts of all time (so far). I've only ever been at one other concert where the singer was so generous and open and almost giving away pieces of themselves in the way Monáe did last night. She played most of the songs from her newest album, as well as some older numbers, and had a fabulous set of dancers and a great backing band, and bounced and strutted around the stage with sheer dynamic energy. And her voice! At one point she brought up several audience members onto the stage to dance with her, and the first person was so overwhelmed with emotion that she was almost crying - and then she danced her heart out.

I was up in the seating area (I can't do crowds), and by the end of the concert, almost everyone in my little corner of the gallery was out of their seat and dancing - me included, of course!

I had a wonderful time, although unfortunately I was completely unable to sleep when I got home, meaning I now have been awake since 5.30am yesterday, so today's day at work is going to be ... interesting.
dolorosa_12: (le guin)
No sooner than I had returned from Spain than I was leaving Cambridge again, this time for a long weekend in Belgium with Matthias. This was one of those things we'd been talking about doing for a very long time -- jumping on the Eurostar and jumping off two hours later in Brussels. International train travel has a lot to recommend it: even with passport control and security, you only have to be at the train station 45 minutes in advance (as opposed to the two hours required for international flights), you have all your belongings with you so don't have to wait at the other end for checked bags to be unloaded, and, best of all, train stations tend to be in the centre of cities, rather than on the outskirts as airports are, so once you've arrived, you're likely to be within walking distance of your accommodation. I hate flying -- and I hate flying Ryanair most of all -- and I'm now completely convinced that, with careful planning, train travel is the way to go whenever we're travelling within Europe.

Choice of transport aside, it was a really fun trip. Belgium was sort of an odd choice for the two of us, given that Matthias isn't keen on Belgian beer, and I don't drink beer at all, and a lot of the touristy things to do in Belgium involve beer. Even without that, though, we found plenty to do in the three-and-a-half days we were there: wandering around the old city centre in Brussels, visiting the comic book museum (which is housed in this incredible old restored Art Nouveau building) and the Atomium building (originally built for the 1958 World's Fair, which was held in Brussels), and walking out to a fabulous food market that I had read about and wanted to see.

We also made a day trip to Ghent, which was cheap (about 10 euro per person for a return ticket on the weekend), and easy to do (trains left every half-hour or so), where we strolled along the beautiful canals, visited the cathedral (which has an absolutely exquisite and famous altarpiece), and wound up in a quirky little jenever bar filled with old bottles, dried flowers, and eccentric old men.

We had been planning to do a similar day trip to Bruges (equally easy and cheap to do by train from Brussels), but decided that we would leave it for another visit, as we enjoyed our brief holiday so much that we're very likely to return again. It was nice to get out of Cambridge for a few days, and have a holiday that was so relaxing and stress free. And while we were away, the long, long weeks of dry, hot summer broke, with spectacular storms, and Cambridge has been restored to its more normal, mild temperatures, which was a great relief to come home to.
dolorosa_12: (le guin)
I got back on Saturday from a week's holiday in Andalusia with my mother, but because I had to go back almost immediately to work, I only just got the time to write about it now. In short: I loved it, I thought it was incredible, and I would go back again in a heartbeat. I had been worried that everywhere would seem too overwhelmed with tourists — more like theme parks than cities, in the vein of Venice and Prague, both of which I've been to — but although the presence of tourists was obvious in all three cities, they were not completely overrun and it wasn't as if we had trouble walking down the street due to the crowds (which is what I found in Prague). If you do visit these cities, however, and want to visit big tourist attractions, I would recommend booking online in advance, as we did, as some of the places allocate most of their available bookings to big tour groups and it's almost impossible to get a ticket on the day.

We flew into Seville and spent three days there, during which time we visited the cathedral, Plaza de España, Real Alcazar (a beautiful old palace with wonderful gardens), and an amazing underground bathhouse with a salt bath (you float around, buoyed up by the salt as in the Dead Sea), spa, steam room and trio of warm, hot and cold pools.

After that we took the train to Granada, where we stayed for two days. The main reason to go to Granada is to see the Alhambra, which we did. I spent the entire time wandering around in complete and utter speechless awe. It's certainly one of the most incredible places I've been in my life, and I was overwhelmed with emotion to be there. Here are some photos I took, and here are some videos of one of the many fountains in the Alhambra grounds. In addition to the Alhambra, we discovered a pretty little park while walking around on our last half-day in Granada, filled with fountains, peacocks and orange trees.

Then it was onwards to Córdoba for our final two days. We again took the train. Our main focus in terms of tourist attractions in Córdoba was the mosque-cathedral, which has the history of the city, and the area more generally, written in layers into its architecture. I have a photoset here, but it's hard to capture the sheer size and scale of the interior. We did not book in advance for this, but I do recommend showing up at opening time (a little before 10am) as we did, as it meant we were able to wander around the building when it was nearly empty, and almost completely free of large tour groups.

After Córdoba it was back to Seville, and then homeward. (The less said about the two-and-a-half hour wait at Stansted for Ryanair to unload our bags and announce the carousel on which those on our flight could collect them, the better. Suffice it to say that I describe flying Ryanair as 'playing Ryanair roulette': you're always braced for something to go wrong, and eventually something will go spectacularly awry.)

I've travelled quite a lot, and seen many amazing places, but I would have to say that of all the places in the world that I've visited, this corner of Spain is probably one of my favourites. It's a really pleasant region in which to be a tourist: trains are cheap and reliable, the cities are easy to get around in by walking (and public transport is good if walking is going to be a problem), and food is both delicious, and unbelievably cheap (I was astonished to find that two people could eat a really nice dinner which included wine and mineral water for about 30 euro). I'm the sort of person who finds places whose difficult, complicated history is written into the architecture to be completely emotionally overwhelming (and I probably didn't help matters by deliberately bringing my copy of Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al-Rassan and making a point of reading some of it in every city, culminating in a tearful reread of its final pages in the hotel in Córdoba). Andalusia obviously has a lot of this, and it hit me really hard — in a good way.
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
What a difference a few days make! The previous weekend was blissful and sunny, and warm enough, even in the evening, to sit outside. Although it was still colder than it had been in Australia, Matthias and I spent the Friday night drinking cocktails by the river with [tumblr.com profile] ienthuse, as the darkness fell, and as what appeared to be the entire population of Cambridge crammed into the small park, drinking beer, cider and Pimm's from plastic cups. Then, on the Sunday we walked out to Madingley — a walk of one-and-a-half hours there, and the same to get back — stopping at Coton on the return journey, revelling in the glorious sunshine. Everything was floral and blue skies and sunbathed, as my photoset should indicate.

And then this weekend will be rainy, preceded by two days of rain, and followed by two more. It's cold, and wet, and the outside world is very uninviting. This is clearly going to be a time of hibernation, spent doing canon review for [community profile] nightonficmountain, drinking tea, reading books, and cooking things that can be roasted. I'm definitely going to leave the house as little as possible!

This weekend also seems to be the perfect time to watch the 'emotion picture' accompanying Janelle Monáe's Dirty Computer album, as many of my friends seem to be doing! If you've liked the music and videos she's released so far from this album, I'd recommend doing the same!

As for me, I'm going back to burrow under my pile of blankets...
dolorosa_12: (le guin)
Matthias and I decided to go out on a little bit of an adventure today. We're limited in Cambridge by where we can reach by public transport and/or walking, and a lot of the villages surrounding the city are not served by buses at all (or only served by one bus that goes into Cambridge in the morning, and another that returns in the evening, which is obviously no good to us at all). However, Hemingford Grey - the site of one really good pub with excellent food - is reachable, even on Sundays, so we decided to make the trek out there for Sunday lunch. This involved catching a bus to St Ives, walking for about half an hour (although we made the walk last for an hour by continuing along the towpath beside the river), and then settling down for a really fantastic meal. We returned to Cambridge via Swavesey, as Matthias wanted to stop for a drink in the pub there (which was also pretty nice), and got home just as it was getting dark. It was a nice way to spend the day. I've put a little photoset up on Instagram, which shows the pretty fields, river, trees and flowers we walked through.

This week also involved seeing three films: Pride (which the university was screening specially as part of LGBT History Month), Black Panther, and I, Tonya. I enjoyed them all immensely.

Pride was just so joyous and defiant, at once an upbeat romantic comedy and a pointedly political call to arms. I had been feeling really worn down by the state of the world, so it was nice to watch something that was about two very different groups of downtrodden, despised and dispossessed people (LGBT people, and striking miners) making common cause and taking on a powerful enemy with unlimited resources with little more than handpainted signs, collecting tins, and the determination of those with moral right on their side.

Black Panther was a glorious, timely addition to the clunking juggernaut that is the MCU. I adored all the female characters, I adored the music and the costumes, and I loved that it didn't hold back in its critiques of colonialism and US (in particular) antiblack racism. We saw the film in IMAX (although not in 3D), and it was well worth it.

Given we've frequently had the Winter Olympics playing in the background at home, I, Tonya was highly thematically relevant. (I wonder if its release was timed to coincide with the Olympics?) I had a vague idea of the historical events on which it was based, but as an Australian (we don't really do winter sports) and as an ex gymnast (that is, someone whose quota of over-the-top performatively feminine acrobatics set to music was already filled) I wasn't really aware of them at the time they were happening. The film is really well written and well acted, blackly comedic while also underscoring how truly messed up competitive elite sport can be, particularly sports which, like figure skating, involve image (i.e. performance of a particular kind of femininity) and long hours of training from a very young age. I hope it picks up some acting Oscars, because it truly deserves them.

All in all, it's been a pretty good week.
dolorosa_12: (sokka)
  • Matthias and I went to London to see Cirque du Soleil's show Ovo. I'm glad we went - I had a wonderful time, and there were a couple of great acts - but overall it was not their best work. I've been watching Cirque shows since I was three years old, so I possibly have overly high standards. It was kind of fun to watch it while sitting near lots of families with small children, because seeing the acts through the children's astonished eyes reminded me of how wonderful it was to see Cirque shows for the very first time.

  • I've been reading my way through Frances Hardinge's body of work: so far I've read A Face Like Glass, Gullstruck Island, The Lie Tree, A Skinful of Shadows, and Cuckoo Song, and I've been absolutely blown away. They're such intricate, clever books, and so hopeful and healing, all concerned with the dispossessed and powerless, giving them their power back.

  • Never someone to say no to excessively rules-based stationery, I've gone completely overboard with bullet journalling. I used a bullet journal last year, but in the most basic way (the method outlined in the video on the bullet journal website). This year, I've gone beyond that with complicated habit tracking spreads, a set-up requiring multiple coloured pencils, glue, old origami paper, and a lot of fiddling around. I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it (when I was in high school I had a system of organisation for my exercise books that required different coloured underlining for each day of the week, a complicated way of ruling up every page, and stern opinions as to which kinds of pens I could use for note-taking, so it was probably inevitable that I fell into the post-school iteration in the form of bullet journalling), but I do sometimes dip into the wild world of bullet journal vlogging/blogging and boggle at the excessive, overpriced stationery and the immense amount of work it seems to involve.

  • I found these two articles about the Salem witch hunt (and also The Crucible, and the modern twisting of the term 'witch hunt') really interesting to read in parallel. The first, by Sarah Monette, is here. The second, by Maria Dahvana Headley, is here, and I came across it via [personal profile] umadoshi.
  • dolorosa_12: (matilda)
    It's the evening of Boxing Day, and, after the busyness and socialising of the past two days, things have calmed down a bit. I'm in Germany visiting my husband's family, and it's been fun so far. In Germany, the main Christmas celebrations happen on Christmas Eve, with the big meal and present-giving taking place in the evening. As we did last year, we had our Christmas Eve dinner at Matthias' sister's place. This year, I cooked the dinner: salmon baked with lemon, garlic, onions, tomatoes, capers and capsicum, served with wild rice. It was a hit, which was a big relief to me, as my taste in food is very different to that of my in-laws. I think I'll always volunteer to cook, as I get really stressed at Christmas events that aren't with my family, and need something to keep me occupied and make me feel useful.

    On Christmas Day Matthias' sister, her husband and their son went to visit the husband's family, and Matthias and I stayed with his parents. Everyone had been given lots of books for Christmas, so we spent most of the day reading, before eating a dinner of cold seafood, bread, and various pickled vegetables. (This used to be his family's Christmas Eve meal of choice, but since events have moved to his sister's, it gets pushed forward to Christmas Day instead.)

    Today is Matthias' dad's birthday, and the rest of the family came over for coffee and cake in the afternoon.

    Post edited to make public, now that I'm back home.
    In between all the various meals and gifts, I've been getting stuck into the Yuletide collection. My gift was wonderful: a little gem of a fic in one of my most beloved fandoms-of-one, and I hope my comment made it clear how much I loved it. My own assignment, and the treats I've written, seem to be well received. I've been impressed with most of the fics I've read so far, and have been on an absolute comment spree. I decided to read through the collection in reverse alphabetically order (because I always feel sorry for authors who write for fandoms at the bottom of the alphabet, as people take longer to get to them and may have run out of steam for commenting by the time they've read their fic), and am up to D. I'll do the same thing with the Madness collection once I'm done with Yuletide.

    I've bookmarked a lot of fics, and will do a recs post on 1st January. I never do recs posts before reveals, as I like to be able to credit the authors and make it easier for people to read their other work.

    I had an idle thought to do a post-reveals friending meme. Would anyone be interested in such a thing? Obviously it would be open to those who didn't participate in Yuletide as well as those who did.
    dolorosa_12: (le guin)
    My wedding is fast approaching, and while I think Matthias and I have that under control (it'd be a bit late if we were still running around planning it, given the wedding is in two and a half weeks, after all!), we've only barely begun planning our honeymoon. All the flights and accommodation are booked, but we haven't yet started to plan what we actually want to do in the places we'll be visiting: Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. That's where you come in.

    I had great success earlier this year asking my Dreamwidth circle for recommendations for things to do in Iceland when visiting with my mother -- people made fantastic suggestions, and the two of us were able to put together a good itinerary, and we had a fabulous time. Does anyone have similar suggestions to make for any of the three cities Matthias and I will be visiting?

    Things we like:
    - art galleries, museums, cool old buildings/architecture. We wouldn't want to spend the entire time doing nothing but visiting museums, but one or two in each city would be nice.
    - walking, especially in quirky/pretty/interesting parts of cities we've never seen.
    - good food and drink. He likes beer, but will probably have done investigations of his own and have that covered. I like coffee.

    If anyone has knowledge regarding public transport (if there's some kind of 24-hour travel pass or the like, or if we need to pay on buses with exact change, or other local quirks to public transport systems), that would also be super helpful. In all three cities we'll be staying in hotels that are reasonably central. We will be in each place for roughly two full days and three nights.

    Thanks in advance!
    dolorosa_12: (pagan kidrouk)
    It's the early afternoon, and the sun is streaming through our living room windows, and there are daffodils in a vase, and everything is generally wonderful. Today is the last day in what ended up being a ten-day holiday — something I didn't realise I needed until it happened.

    I spent the first four days of the holiday up in Anglesey staying with [tumblr.com profile] gwehydd and her husband and son. Matthias and I have quite a few friends in that part of the world, and try to get there once every year or two if possible. Apart from going out to a restaurant on the Saturday night and a pub lunch on the Sunday, we stuck pretty close to home, as our friends' toddler son makes it difficult to do lots of travelling. But to be honest, a weekend spent hanging out indoors, playing board games and laughing at the adorable antics of our friends' son was exactly what I needed. Anglesey is a really beautiful part of the world, and unfortunately on all previous trips it's poured with rain. This time we were lucky enough to get sun during the moments we ventured outdoors, which was fantastic. [tumblr.com profile] gwehydd and her husband are going to be doing a lot of travelling in the upcoming months — he is a university lecturer and is on the verge of taking first study leave and later a sabbatical — so it was good to be able to catch up with them before they head off overseas. Our other good friend in Anglesey is married to a Polish woman and is about to move to Poland with her, so we're also not likely to see much of him in the next year either (unless we go to Poznan for a holiday, which we've been idly considering for a while but not planned seriously). It was therefore great to be able to catch up with everyone before they scattered to the four corners of the Earth.

    After our trip to Anglesey we spent the rest of the holiday in Cambridge. I realised that this was the first holiday I've had in about four years that hasn't involved either going somewhere else to stay with friends or family, or having people stay with us, neither of which I find particularly relaxing. It was so amazing to just be able to hang out in Cambridge, binge-watching TV, cooking loads of food, and doing life admin without any demands on my time or feeling like I needed to entertain people. I think I'm going to insist on having at least several consecutive days of holiday like this every year from now on!

    We did go out with Cambridge friends to the pub on Thursday night (I think I ended up spending most of the time ranting with [tumblr.com profile] shinyshoeshaveyouseenmymoves about Song of Achilles (which I detest and which seems to pop up in fandom spaces when I least expect it) and our general dissatisfaction with the direction some corners of fandom seem to be taking), but other than that, Matthias and I only left the house for some forays into town to buy food. (Inevitably, these coincided with pouring rain.) We made an attempt to binge-watch Daredevil, but have so far only made it six episodes in — not because we don't like this season, but because we had so much other TV to catch up with! In any case, I'm thoroughly enjoying Daredevil so far, although it does suffer in comparison to Jessica Jones.

    I'm also doing a reread of Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart books, which are as good as I remember them. There are some authors I like for their characters, some whose plotting is exquisite, some whose themes resonate deeply with me, and some I like for their turns of phrase. Pullman is one of the few whose work is good at all four of these elements, and whose books always reward rereads. Coming back to these familiar stories is like settling in under a warm blanket.

    All in all, the past ten days have been utterly restorative. I kind of wish I didn't have to go back to work tomorrow!

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